Saturday, March 07, 2009


On Monday, Janet wrote a post about nurse home visits to low-income parents, and she linked to this article in I've been thinking about something in that article all week. Here's the paragraph that caught my attention...

"There's really no mystery to the program's success, says Olds. Simple interventions, like encouraging new parents to show affection to their children or to talk to them more, result in exponential rewards for babies. In poor families, adults tend to speak to babies only to issue commands, in a business-only style of parenting rather than talking to children to communicate affection, identify objects, introduce concepts or teach language — a phenomenon more common in middle-class and wealthy households. Studies have shown that by preschool age, children whose parents gesture or talk to them less in babyhood know significantly fewer vocabulary words than children whose parents engage them more often. That deficit can affect students' performance for years."

I guess I should have figured that someone else had noticed (and studied) how parents in poor families talk to their kids. Honestly, it breaks my heart when I observe their behavior while I'm walking at the mall. How can any human speak to a child so harshly? I don't think I could talk like that to a snake - and I really don't like snakes. (If I did slip and say something mean to a rattler, I'd be strongly tempted to give it a hug afterward to make it feel better. Notice I said "tempted".)

I pass their babies riding in their strollers or their small children trailing behind them with no adult hand to hold. I smile and wave at the cute little sweeties, who usually look back at me like there's something wrong with me. Are they not used to being smiled at? (Guess it could be that I look like an alien to them; they've probably never seen anyone with such odd hair.)

So yes, Janet, I wholeheartedly support nurse home visits for poor families. But I'm going to go a step further and ask anyone who reads this post (all three of you) to tell five people - by blog or Facebook or in person - about how the way we talk to our babies affects their development and performance later on in life. Tell them to blog about it and talk to five other people too. If we keep it up, maybe some day new parents won't have to wait to learn something so fundamental from a visiting nurse.

What's in it for you and me? These kids are our kids' and grandkids' peers. Enough said.

P.S. Before you get the idea that I'm totally naive, let me just say I do see this as the vicious cycle it is - that these parents are treating their children the way they were treated by their parents. That just doubles my sadness. What a waste of potential...


Katharine said...

May you could join the Hug It Forward movement that's come to San Diego.

Pat said...

OK, now you've gone too far!

JanetLee said...

Pat - thanks! Last night I saw an example of that. A little girl of about 7 was leaving with a group of family members. She was very excited and said, "I'm going to be a nurse when I grow up!"

One woman said to her, "You better get better grades in school."

Another said, "You should be a doctor."

Both were said in harsh, skeptical tones of voice.

If I had been closer, I would have said something to the little girl myself, but they were through the door before I could.

It was like watching a balloon being popped.

Pat said...

Oy, Janet - doesn't it just make you want to scream?